It’s a controversial topic. Should you be entitled to receive a life-saving organ transplant if you aren’t registered for organ donation yourself?
27-year-old Shelley Wealleans has sparked a fresh round of debate after claiming that she feels she suffered payback after failing to donate her first baby’s organs.
When Shelley was 19, she gave birth to her first son, Lewis. He was born with a rare heart defect, and died aged just three months. Shelley recalls being asked if she would like to donate his organs, and refusing without considering the request.
“I didn’t know anything about organ donation, so it was a shock. I was so angry and grief-stricken.”
She went on to have another son, Corey, before splitting with her husband Rob. Corey was born healthy, and is now a boisterous seven-year-old.
Shelley then met her new husband Lee, 31, and the pair decided to try for another child. Shortly after baby Mackenzie was born, his heart began to fail, and Shelley was told that he’d need a transplant.
“When Mackenzie was ill, I was as two-faced as they come. I felt guilty knowing a mum in the past was sitting feeling what I was. I’d said no when I could’ve possibly saved a child’s life by simply saying yes. And then I needed someone else, another mother, to say yes to me.”
Doctors investigating the condition reassured Shelley that Mackenzies’ condition was not the same as Lewis’, and that she’d been very unlucky to have two children affected by a heart condition. Mackenzie was classed as a critical case, and put at the top of the UK transplant register.
“We waited 60 agonising days but a donor heart couldn’t be found. It then hit me, the heartache another poor woman had been forced to go through when I refused to donate Lewis’ organs. I hoped that just one mum out there would have more strength and courage than I had. I needed someone else, another mother, to say yes for me. But no one did.”
Mackenzie passed away in May last year, just a few weeks before his second birthday.
Shelley now has a fourth child, a daughter named Madison. She was added to the donor list at just 52 hours old, making her the youngest person to register. Shelley is also supporting the “Promise Life” campaign, in the hope of making more people think about donating organs.
“My guilt will stay with me forever, but I hope that in telling my story other people will consider joining the organ register.”
So far, Shelley’s story has caused a storm of reaction. Many have offered words of sympathy for her loss, and some have tried to alleviate her guilt. The more interesting responses surround the process of donating organs. If the decision to donate organs has not already made, families are asked during a very harrowing, dark time, when they are heavily grieving. Donation is a complex subject, and many families simply want to be left alone to grieve and process their thoughts, rather than learn about a medical procedure.
The act of donating organs is also highly controversial. It’s an intensely personal decision, and it can be affected by everything from medical knowledge to religion. Some people are only happy to donate certain organs – leaving organs such as the eyes to keep the body “complete” – whilst others have been traumatized by accounts of organ harvesting.
This is not a new story. There are regular campaigns to encourage people to sign up, and most people will meet at least one person on the transplant list during their lifetime. Hospitals are filled with those who are in need of an organ.
What is new about Shelley’s story is the consequences. Usually, choosing whether to donate or not has no direct effect on your own life. It makes it much easier to refuse to donate if you don’t know the person who needs your organs – and once you are dead, you will never know if your organs were used or not. But Shelley’s been on both sides of the equation – she’s made the decision not to donate, and then had to wait and pray that someone else will. And her feelings of guilt, punishment and pain are ones we could all face, under the same circumstances.
So should you be allowed to receive an organ if you aren’t planning to donate your own? What if you donate blood or bone marrow, but aren’t registered to donate your organs? Or should the system be left alone? Would an opt-in system work – or should the opt-in system make it clear that if you opt out, you won’t be eligible to receive organs either?
It’s a complex issue, and a question that’s almost too loaded to answer.
(Photos via Daily Mail)